With the Screw Attack, Samus Aran’s essential arsenal is now complete (barring one final power-up that you experience so briefly and use in such a limited capacity that it amounts to a set piece). You can go anywhere. Do anything. Acquire any item. The entirety of Zebes is now at your fingertips, and a 100% item acquisition rate is now within your power.
Ah, but there’s one place you still can’t go: The passage obstructed by that statute of the conglomerated bosses. The Ridley figure remains inactive. And since you’re here so close to Ridley himself, why not go ahead and finish him off here? Super Metroid offers nonlinearity – there’s a short route from the Torizo battle back to the entrance to lower Norfair – but it’s also designed in a way that sometimes it doesn’t make sense to do anything but power on straight ahead. Down here in Ridley’s cul-de-sac you find one of those instances. You don’t have to defeat him now, but why on earth wouldn’t you? Unless you didn’t stock up on enough Energy Tanks for the fight ahead, I mean.
Lower Norfair continues to throw high-stress versions of every trick you’ve already seen at you as you advance on the boss’ lair. Immediately following the Torizo encounter, you come to one of the largest chambers in the entire game. You enter high up the left wall with no platform under your feet, causing you to plummet to the ground far below. As soon as you land, though, more of that magma/acid/Velveeta begins to rise rapidly, sizzling at your heels as you as you rise to the door installed high and to the right of the room. While there is a small path to the top in the form of a few platforms, they’re situated in a way that they run counter to your natural path to the top if you attempt to Space Jump up there; if you collide with one, you could easily break your Space Jump chain and drop back to the bottom, meaning you’ll fall behind the rate at which the magma rises and have to slog your way to the exit while suffering a steady drain of health… which could be dire news coming right after the Torizo encounter without a recharge station or save chamber.
As it turns out, though, you need to follow the path of the ascending platforms to a certain degree, as the exit from this flooding cavern is situated atop a long ledge that extends quite a ways into the room, providing a natural sort of roof for what will ultimately become the magma chamber. If you space jump to the top while hugging the right wall, you’ll find yourself boxed in with the caustic fluid. Oh, there are also some Space Pirates, but at this point you’re basically a spinning ball of plasma death, so who cares? The real challenge here is the race against the magma. It’s not a hard room, per se, but coming at the tail end of a tricky battle serves as a reminder that even though Samus is like a small armored god at this point, you can’t just breeze through the rest of the adventure on auto-pilot. The environmental design has changed from the sprawling free-form confusion of Maridia to self-contained tests of skill, because after all mere traversal no longer poses a challenge to a woman who can defy gravity and destroy anything she touches as she does so.
One you make it through that particular gauntlet, this terrible sight awaits you. Evidently it was enough for Ridley to have one effigy of himself; there’s also this one. It’s a rougher, less refined portrait of the creature than the one that housed the entrance to lower Norfair, which seems appropriate given the primal feel of this region. Also fittingly, it marks the exit to this section of Zebes; you can head up from here to return to upper Norfair. Also fittingly, it contains one of the game’s final big secrets: If you take out the alien head embedded in the wall, you can roll through a passage that leads you to an Energy Tank housed near the lower portion of this statue, beneath faux-Ridley’s extended arm – yes, Ridley had his space pirates sculpt an entire giant maquette of himself.
Ridley statues aren’t the only work of rough-hewn art in this region, though. Lower Norfair contains a number of what appear to be primitive Chozo statues as well. Unlike the ones that present Samus with power-ups or turn into Torizo, though, these are fatter and sit facing into the screen, not entirely unlike the way the final Torizo was able to pivot into the background. Again, there’s a Mesoamerican feel to the architecture in this region, and the almost fetish-like proportions of these statues reflects the sense of a lost aboriginal civilization. Even though Super Metroid doesn’t offer detailed notes on its environments or the history of Zebes, you can clearly see you’ve entered an area that even the Chozo who once populated this world appeared to have left behind. At this rate you practically feel like a Great Old One is next on the agenda.
But it’s not. Instead, you just have to deal with swarms of incredibly deadly standard creatures, like these giant Desgeega. Only the charged Plasma Beam has the ability to take them out quickly, but they move fast and appear in large numbers, attempting to overwhelm Samus – and they hit hard, too, dinging Samus for nearly an entire Energy Tank upon contact. It’s not hard to work up an energy deficit here, and with no recharge station to be found the only way to heal up is to blast respawning enemies that emerge from nearby pipes.
This conveyance – a pair of rising and falling spike platforms in a narrow shaft lined with spikes – definitely conveys the message that Ridley does not want you bothering him. It feels more like something from a Castlevania game than from Metroid.
However, nothing in lower Norfair compares to this strange room, which appears to be almost a command center or something. The primal figures of the ancient Chozo have been retrofitted with what appear to be computer monitors or something. If Ridley is really the space pirate leader, this definitely looks like his base of operations… and he’s clearly recruited his most elite subordinates to man the station.
The two space pirates in this chamber are like no other enemies in the game. They’re invulnerable to all forms of attack, and they possess a frightful array of skills. They respond to Samus’ actions rather than simply fighting blindly. These guys know kung-fu, and they’re not afraid to use it. If you keep your distance, they attack with projectiles that appear to be their own limbs. If you move in close, they attack with kicks and punches. If you keep a middle distance, they don’t move, period; they hop from foot to foot in place, breathing heavily like Street Fighter characters, squaring off against you and waiting for you to make a move.
And when you do go on the attack, they start jumping around doing flying kicks at you. One of these guys would be tough enough, but two at once can quickly overwhelm you. Their one weakness is a tendency to drop out of their invulnerable state temporarily when they make their flying leaps – for about two seconds after they jump, their color shifts from grey to gold, leaving them open to a charged Plasma Beam attack. A few hits while they’re defenseless will put them down for the count, but that’s more easily said than done; the window of opportunity is brief and only comes after they’ve taken offensive action that you’ll likely try to dodge by jumping… but in the time it takes for you to land, they’ll probably have shifted back into their armored forms. On top of that, they’re very rarely vulnerable at the same time, and whichever of the creatures is currently armored has a tendency to run interference for his friend, blocking your shots when you try to strike.
The speed, ferocity, complexity, and scarcity of attack opportunities in this encounter combine to make it quite possibly the most challenging fight in the whole of Super Metroid. Despite the space pirates’ relatively small size, they’re exceedingly dangerous.
Coming so soon after the space pirate elite, the long-awaited showdown with Ridley seems almost disappointingly straightforward. It basically boils down to a simple slugfest: He flies around, blasts you with fire, attempts to spear you with his tail (which whips around violently throughout the battle), and hovers at the edge of the screen when not actively attacking to avoid your retaliatory fire. When Ridley descends, he generally either darts in to grab Samus so he can slam her with his tail – much as Draygon did, but with far greater urgency and ferocity – or launches into a strange pattern where he extends his tail directly downward and pogos around the room on it, attempting to spear Samus.
By and the large, the strategy for this battle amounts to pumping him full of missiles before your own energy runs out. This is much more difficult if you’re doing a low-item run, but playing normally you should be able to win just by button-mashing and keeping your weapon arm trained at a 45-degree angle most of the time. It doesn’t take much in the way of brains, but it does make for a nice callback to the boss tactics of the original Metroid and Metroid II.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the final battle of the game after all; you find the baby metroid’s container in the room behind Ridley’s lair, but not the metroid. Not that this should be a huge surprise given that statue of the bosses, which obviously hides something important. Still, there’s no resolution here. Whatever Ridley’s reasons for stealing the baby metroid, it wasn’t so he could have a cute little pet for his office.